Antisemitism conference to hold many speakers, ideas


Kellen Stepler | staff writer

A year ago, Pittsburgh banded together to remember the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill.

In commemoration of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Classrooms Without Borders (CWB) is organizing a conference titled “Antisemitism, Hate and Social Responsibility,” hosted at the Rodef Shalom on Nov. 10-11, 2019.

The conference is co-sponsored and supported by Duquesne University, along with nine other academic and religious groups. The conference will feature lectures by professors, historians, journalists and even a former Neo-Nazi skinhead. Educators, spiritual leaders, those in academia, students and interested community members are invited to attend the event.

Melissa Haviv, assistant director for CWB, hopes the event will give the community the opportunity to learn more about antisemitism and hate.

“This conference aims to educate and equip teachers and academia with the tools they need to provide early intervention and teach students to develop empathy and respect for diversity,” Haviv said.

A 2017 report released from the FBI noted that hate crimes have increased over the past decade. The report also noted that anti-Semitism accounts for 58.1% of all anti-religious hate crimes nationally.

“While cities nationwide are struggling to maintain security for their minority inhabitants, the Tree of Life shooting demonstrates that further diversity and inclusion education is necessary in Pittsburgh,” Haviv said.

The event begins Nov. 10 at 1:15 p.m., when Michael Berenbaum will give a lecture titled “Not Your Father’s Anti-Semitism: Where Contemporary Anti-Semitism Differs and Why that Matters.” The lecture will focus on contemporary antisemitism.

Berenbaum is the director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the American Jewish University, where he is a professor of Jewish studies.

Following Berenbaum’s lecture, Peter Hayes talk on the historical context and “Us vs. Them” thinking in his speech, titled “Why? Explaining the Holocaust.” Hayes wrote a book of the same name that specializes in the histories of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and the conduct of the nation’s largest corporations during the Third Reich. He was a German and history professor at Northwestern University for 36 years, and currently serves as the chair of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial museum.

The event splits up into tabling after Hayes’ speech, and picks up with a panel discussion moderated by Berenbaum. Speakers include Hayes, Ken Jacobson, the deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League and Mary Johnson, a senior historian of Facing History and Ourselves. Dinner will follow the discussion.

The last event of the night is a film screening, conducted by filmmaker and journalist Patrice O’Neill. O’Neill leads “Not in Our Town,” a community-based movement of people working to stop hate together. The “Not in Our Town” national series is on PBS and O’Neill has led a multi-platform approach that utilizes documentary film, social networking, outreach and organizing efforts to encourage dialogue and community action.

Currently, O’Neill and her team are in production of “Stories from the Tree of Life,” a “documentary and community engagement project focused on the powerful actions of Pittsburgh leaders and residents to counter hate and antisemitism and build community resilience in the aftermath of the traumatic attack,” according to the CWB agenda.

The second day of the event will kick off with a lecture by Rachel Kranson and Jeanette Joulli, associate professors of religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. The talk is titled “Anti-Semitism, Racism and Islamophobia.” According to the CWB agenda, Kranson specializes in modern Jewish history, Judaism in America, religion in America, gender studies and the Holocaust. Joulli specializes in Contemporary Islam, anthropology of ethics, religious pluralism and secularism, religion, popular culture and gender studies.

After the lecture, attendees will breakout into workshop sessions. The morning workshops range from confronting white nationalism in schools, to confronting contemporary antisemitism through holocaust education to creating an environment for holocaust and genocide studies in schools. The afternoon breakout session is a spiritual leadership and clergy track, dealing with Christians countering antisemitism through reorientation, repair, revitalization and resources.

The last lecture of the event is a discussion with Johnson, Kathleen Blee, a University of Pittsburgh professor and author of “Understanding Racist Activism: Theory, Methods and Research” published in 2017, and Shannon Foley Martinez, a former neo-Nazi skinhead. According to the CWB agenda, Foley Martinez “works as the Program Manager for Free Radicals Project, as well as being a U.S. Regional Coordinator for the Against Violence and Extremism Network (AVE) —the largest network of former violence-based extremists and survivors of extremist violence in the world.”

Because Duquesne is partnering with CWB for the conference, all Duquesne students and faculty are invited to attend for free. You can register online at: